Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TV's Reality Show

Showtime has a new psycho-thriller series called “Homeland” that concerns the search for a hidden mole by the CIA. So in the episodes to come dedicated investigators will ferret him or her out. What is interesting here is the schism between the fictional world and real world of counterespionage. In the former, the issue is discovering and getting rid of the mole. In the real world, the issue is the vulnerability of the organization itself. If the CIA can be penetrated for a sustained period of time by an enemy agent masquerading as a loyal officer, then there is a defect in its apparatus. To admit this, is to admit it is vulnerable to penetration. Such an admission will paralyze its intelligence gathering. The alternative is to view such allegations as the product of “paranoia” and “sick think,” as CIA Director William Colby termed it. This mindset maintains the illusion of invulnerability and the organization’s morale, but allows the penetration to continue.

This single most revealing document on how the CIA dealt with this dilemma is the 1995 finding of its own CIA Inspector General. His investigation determined that 6 or more agents recruited by the CIA in the 1980s and early 1990s were actually controlled by the KGB. The internal investigation further established that between 1986 and 1994 information from these double-agents had routinely been incorporated in the CIA's most highly classified product, a report signed personally by the CIA director, and provided with a distinctive blue stripe to the President, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all received this disinformation, according to the Inspector-General. But the shocking part is not that the KGB successfully deceived the CIA but that the CIA did not reveal it had been gulled after learning its agents were controlled by Moscow. The Inspector General states “senior CIA officers responsible for these reports had known that some of their sources were controlled by Russian intelligence.” Yet they chose not to blow the KGB’s deception.

If it revealed that the KGB controlled these agents, its entire illusion of invulnerability would crumble. It would have to confront the possibility that the KGB was able to continue this operation for eight years because it had someone inside the CIA telling it how the data it was preparing was being interpreted by the CIA. James Jesus Angleton had contended that such feedback required a mole in either CIA or FBI counterintelligence. At the time, it was believed by the leadership of the CIA that its rigorous defenses , including polygraph examinations, security checks /and agents recruited in Russian intelligence, made it invulnerable to such a deep penetration. So Angleton fired by Colby and discredited.. It was only decades later moles such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were discovered. Angleton was proven right in his assessment but the Cold war was over.